The Battle of Midway Ended 80 Years Ago Today on June 7, 1942

by HB Auld, Jr.

On this date, 80 years ago, the Battle of Midway, a turning point in the war against Japan, ended. The Japanese fleet was limping back toward Japan, licking its wounds, as the US Pacific Fleet celebrated the victory with the first triumphant reply to Japan’s surprise ambush against US Forces at Pearl Harbor, six months earlier.

Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto, Japan’s architect of the war against the United States, had planned to feint an attack against the Aleutian Islands, strung out from Alaska. He planned to hide his four carriers near Midway Island in the Pacific and when the US diverted its forces and answered the false attack against the Aleutians, he would invade Midway Island.

(PERSONAL ASIDE: I was stationed with the US Navy at Adak, Alaska, in the Aleutian Islands from December, 1966, to December, 1967. When I was there back then, quonset huts dotted the island, left over from World War II. The Quonset huts were constructed for American troops to hunker down in during the expected Japanese naval attack that never came. The Quonset huts there on the island were still usable. Many of the naval departments on the island “homesteaded” a hut for department parties and just to get away from one of the five bases still on the island).

Unfortunately for Admiral Yamamoto, the United States had just secretly broken the Japanese JN25 military code and learned of the false attack. When Yamamoto attacked Midway Island, the US was ready and waiting on June 4, 1942.

When the smoke cleared four days later on June 7, the battle was over and Japan had suffered 2,500 casualties and lost four carriers, a cruiser, and 292 aircraft. The US Pacific Fleet lost one carrier (the behemoth USS YORKTOWN (CV 10), one destroyer escort (USS HAMMANN…DE 131) 145 aircraft, and 307 casualties. Japan’s losses brought them down into parity with the US.

In August, 1942, the US pushed its counter-offensive at Guadalcanal, eventually leading to Japan’s surrender three years later.

Battle of Midway 79 Years Ago Today

by Guest Author Tara Ross

On this day in 1942, the Battle of Midway is fought. The Japanese had taken Americans by surprise at Pearl Harbor mere months before. Now the United States would strike a decisive blow of its own.

Americans entered battle with a priceless advantage: They’d recently broken a Japanese naval code. The U.S. Navy had a pretty good idea of when, where, and how the Japanese would attack.

They’d barely figured out the “where”! As cryptanalysts listened to the intercepted messages, they kept hearing references to location “AF,” but they didn’t know where AF was. Could it be Midway? They decided to test the theory.

The personnel at Midway were asked to broadcast an uncoded radio message, reporting that their water purification system was broken. And wouldn’t you know it? American intelligence soon picked up a coded Japanese message, faithfully reporting that “AF” had a water shortage.

Japan had been tricked into confirming the location of “AF.”

The Japanese attack was sighted on radar early on June 4, as expected. Naturally, Midway was already on alert. Moreover, three United States aircraft carriers hovered nearby, just beyond the reach of Japanese radar.

The battle that followed was intense. Japanese planes rained down fire on the Midway atoll, but Americans returned unrelenting antiaircraft fire. In the meantime, American planes from Midway took off toward the Japanese carriers. “All of these attacks would be bravely carried out but ineffective, scoring no hits on any Japanese ship,” historian Ian W. Toll describes. “But the continuous pressure of new air attacks, however ineffectual, put the Japanese off balance.”

Torpedo bombers from the U.S. aircraft carriers finally arrived, but they fared badly. Mitsuo Fuchida, an officer aboard the Japanese carrier Akagi, later recounted his “breathless suspense, thinking how impossible it would be to dodge all their torpedoes.” But most of these planes did not have fighter escorts, and they were quickly defeated.

Nevertheless, the Japanese were contending with their own problems. Their commanding officer had waffled on whether to arm his planes with land bombs (to attack Midway) or torpedoes (to attack the American fleet). Ultimately, the Japanese carriers were caught in a vulnerable position. Some planes were refueling; some were rearming with torpedoes. Bombs and torpedoes were lying around the hangar deck of the carriers, not yet returned to their magazines: All this material created a risk of secondary explosions in the event of a strike.

Complicating matters, even those planes that were already in the air were flying too low to deal with what came next: American dive bombers.

Yes! The Navy’s most effective weapon chose that inconvenient moment to arrive.

“The terrifying scream of the dive-bombers reached me first,” Fuchida recounted, “followed by the crashing explosion of a direct hit. There was a blinding flash and then a second explosion, much louder than the first. . . . Then followed a startling quiet as the barking of guns suddenly ceased. I got up and looked at the sky. The enemy planes were already gone from sight.”

Within about five minutes, three aircraft carriers in the Japanese fleet were effectively destroyed, including hundreds of pilots, planes, aircraft maintenance crews and repairmen. A fourth aircraft carrier would be lost by the end of the day.

Americans suffered losses, too, but their victory was undeniable: Japan’s ability to fight an air war had been severely compromised.

Gentle reminder: History posts are copyright © 2013-2020 by Tara Ross. I appreciate it when you use the shar e feature instead of cutting/pasting: #TDIH#OTD#AmericanHistory#USHistory#liberty#freedom#ShareTheHistory

EDITOR’S NOTE: Guest author, Tara Ross, is a mother, wife, writer, and retired lawyer. She is the author of The Indispensable Electoral College: How the Founders’ Plan Saves Our Country from Mob Rule,Enlightened Democracy: The Case for the Electoral College, co-author of Under God: George Washington and the Question of Church and State (with Joseph C. Smith, Jr.), & We Elect A President: The Story of our Electoral College. She is a constitutionalist, but with a definite libertarian streak! Stay tuned here for updates on pretty much anything to do with the Electoral College, George Washington, & our wonderfully rich American heritage.

History posts are copyright © 2013-2020 by Tara Ross. Please use the share feature instead of cutting/pasting.  #TDIH#OTD#History#USHistory#liberty#freedom#ShareTheHistory